The ALA, public libraries and the Great Depression
Date of Issue2007
Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the American Library Association (ALA) became active in an alliance of public administrators, bank executives and teachers defending public spending from powerful populist anti-tax coalitions seeking drastic tax cuts as a solution to economic stagnation. Librarians were encouraged by the ALA to join the fight for ‘constructive economy’ that would reform and strengthen the role of public institutions. On the surface, this appears to be another example of the cyclical calls for library action that Michael Harris identified as characteristic of the profession’s history. But in this case, the threat was real and the campaign produced significant longterm change. Librarians and their institutions became part of a much broader set of social forces that served to re-establish the hegemony of the American state at a time when it was particularly vulnerable to attack. In fact, the ALA’s calls for ‘constructive economy’ foreshadowed and made possible the post-war Fordist compromise between monopoly capital, the state and organized labour. This article examines the role the ALA hoped libraries would play in the campaign against the anti-taxation groups and, using the work of social theorists Antonio Gramsci and Nicos Poulantzas, situates these efforts within the wider political economy of the time.
DRNTU::Library and information science
© 2007 CILIP. This is the author created version of a work that has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication in Library History, published by Maney Publishing on behalf of CILIP. It incorporates referee’s comments but changes resulting from the publishing process, such as copyediting, structural formatting, may not be reflected in this document. The published version is available at: DOI [http:dx.doi.org/10.1179/174581607x205626].